Sometimes over Sunday dinner the family would watch Soupy Sales on television. Tookie would set up the folding card table (with one bent leg) in the living room, and the three of them watched on the 12-inch black-and-white console. Velvul enjoyed the corny humor, and especially the noir detective, Philo Kvetch. And then there was Soupy Sez, words of wisdom, like: “Be true to your teeth, and they’ll never be false to you!” Every so often, Soupy would sing a silly, lilting song called “Pachalafaka,” that Velvul thought said something about “spreading it all over turkey” and it had lots of foreign-sounding words that he did not understand. Soupy had two companions, White Fang and Black Tooth, that the audience never saw, just two different furry paws reaching out from off-camera. Many times they held a cream pie that ended up on Soupy’s face when a joke was really, really bad. Slapstick humor appealed to Velvul, but he had no idea why. Watching people get hit with things was just funny. Unless it was Velvul who got hit.
Velvul tried to repeat some of the jokes from the Soupy Sales Show to his classmates because he thought it would make him more popular. He would write the letter ‘K’ on the chalkboard and ask someone what letter they saw. Velvul would repeat Soupy’s line, “That’s funny, I see ‘F’ you see ‘K.’” The other kids could not understand the humor based on innuendo mixed with puns, and the attempts at joke-telling led to an undesired consequence: no one wanted to play with Velvul.
After having to put up with Tookie and his idiosyncrasies for so many years, Razel began to get frequent headaches. Some afternoons she closed all the curtains and sent Velvul across the hall to their neighbor, Miss Brown, a retired school teacher who lived by herself. Miss Brown had a never-ending supply of home-made snickerdoodle cookies she served Velvul as they watched old movies on television together. The films they both liked best were the ones where young, single women had to choose a husband from among various available suitors. Which one was the millionaire? Who was the secret admirer who kept sending flowers? Where would they live together? Why did a smart woman even need a stupid husband?
“Were you ever married, Miss Brown?” Velvul asked one day, causing Miss Brown to choke on her wine.
When the coughing stopped, she looking patiently down at her guest, “No, my dear. I’ve never married. That’s why I’m ‘Miss’ Brown instead of ‘Mrs.’”
“I bet if you ever wanted to get married, you’d be just like one of those ladies in the movies we watch, and men would be lining up to propose to you, and you’d have your choice of which ever one you’d want.”
Miss Brown blushed to match her rosé. “Why, thank you, my dear. You’re a special one.” She tousled his hair, and he smiled at the affection. That day’s heroine ended up with a foreign prince who showed her the world from aboard his big yacht.
Every so often Miss Brown’s friend (and drinking partner) Mr. Bill showed up. He looked very old because his grayish-pink face had lots of wrinkles and his grayish-white hair did not cover much of the head under his gray plaid wool fedora anymore. On his upper lip sat a neatly-trimmed, gray, pencil-thin mustache, and he always seemed to be smiling about something that Velvul could never figure out. Whenever Mr. Bill appeared, the three of them drank lemonade together. They would toast by clinking their glasses against each other and saying “Clinkity, clink, time to drink!” with a smile. Sometimes Mr. Bill would forget what beverage they had. Miss Brown asked, “More lemonade, Bill?” and he would look confused. “Lemonade?” His glazed-over eyes would squint and his smile disappeared, but suddenly he remembered. “Oh, yes! More lemonade, please,” and he would hold up the empty glass in his shaky hand. Mr. Bill really liked Miss Brown’s lemonade.
One afternoon movie was from the “Road to…” series, and Dorothy Lamour wore a turban, something Soupy Sales had sported while he sang “Pachalafaka.” During a commercial, Velvul asked Miss Brown, “Do you like Soupy Sales, Miss Brown?”
“Hmmmm? What is that, my dear?” She had gone to the kitchen to retrieve another platter of snickerdoodles.
“Soupy Sales?” he asked, just as she walked back into the living room.
Miss Brown placed the tray on the table next to the couch as she muttered to herself, “Oh, Jews and their sales…”
“It’s a very funny show on Sunday evenings. Do you ever watch it?”
“Funny shows?” she echoed. “Oh, my dear, I only watch Bob Hope,” she pointed to the screen, “and that Carson fellow.” Miss Brown picked up the platter and held it out to Velvul. “Have another cookie, my dear. The movie is about to start again.”
Next up: A Day at the Races (No Marx Brothers, but plenty of horse feathers)